Review: Oliver, Buxton Opera House

Picture by David J King

Since Paul Kerryson became CEO at Buxton Opera House late in 2016 he has made it a priority that his experience and the professional skills at the disposal of the Opera House should be used to enable young actors to be part of first-rate productions. Last year West Side Story was a vibrant success. This year’s production of Oliver is equally a triumph.

Dickens’ story is 170 years old but the themes of poverty, the exploitation of children and women, the often careless indifference of those charged with caring – these all are with us today. The fact that Lionel Bart’s musical is also 60 years old seems not to matter – it might be a bit sentimental in its depiction of Cockney stoicism – but it remains both witty, wistful and hard hitting.

This production is wrapped up in high production values. The set is bold, imaginative and well-lit; the orchestra is dynamic and vigorous; the choreography is purposeful and energetic; the costumes and stage dressing provide colour and help establish the mood; and the chorus sings with clarity and conviction. All of this provides great support for the musical’s many set pieces.

Bart wrote a clutch of tremendous and memorable songs for Oliver – from the opening Food, Glorious Food through to the big solos in Act Two. Natalie Coverley is the tragic Nancy and her As Long As He Needs Me is the vocal highlight. Lucas Bailey as Fagin manages to show two sides of the man – the manipulative villain and the melancholic who can just about imagine leading a better life. His Reviewing The Situation is delivered with pathos and perfect timing.

Henry Hodgkinson was the Artful Dodger for this performance and he led Consider Yourself with cheery confidence. Alfie Hall, as Oliver, is engaging and persuasive as a victim deserving of our sympathy.

Who Will Buy? is, for my money, one of the best songs in the show and allowed most of the support cast to have some deserved attention. Stewart Bowden plays the vicious Bill Sikes – a man for whom we can have no sympathy and is reluctant to reveal My Name. I can’t finish without acknowledging the perfect behaviour of Romeo, the lovely bull terrier, who plays Bill’s dog Bullseye.

At the end of the performance, greeted with great enthusiasm by a full house, Lady Jasmine Cavendish – patron of the Opera House – spoke for us in acknowledging the passion, energy and commitment of the whole company and creative team, but also in emphasising how important it is that the Opera House regularly offers these experiences and opportunities to young actors.

For tickets for future shows on selected dates until June 9 go to http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk

Keith Savage